Monday, May 15, 2006

Gee, who would have thunk it?

Why is a government phone database a bad idea? Because of stuff like this:

A senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we (Brian Ross and Richard Esposito) call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

"It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick," the source told us in an in-person conversation.

ABC News does not know how the government determined who we are calling, or whether our phone records were provided to the government as part of the recently-disclosed NSA collection of domestic phone calls.

Other sources have told us that phone calls and contacts by reporters for ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation.

Hmmm. Do you suppose that tracking calls made by reporters might have a chilling effect on their ability to report, far out of proportion to whatever legitimate security interest the government has in finding and plugging leaks?

Do you suppose that such practices might be ripe for abuse -- used, say, when the activity being investigated is not a national security issue but, say, embarassing or criminal?

Let's extend the analogy to the Internet, and let's make it personal.

I post under a pseudonym. If I were to become a thorn in the side of the administration, they could easily track the IP addresses used for posting, learn my identity, and then take action. What if my employer is one of those that would not be happy to find that I'm running this site? The government could simply inform my employer and I'd be forced to stop blogging on pain of losing my job.

I broke no law. I would not be charged with any crime. But I would be effectively silenced.

Such things are insidious, and harmful to a free society. They ought to be odious to anyone who values a free society and a strong democracy. Handing the government the keys to our privacy in hopes that they will keep us safe from terrorists simply exchanges a distant threat for a near one, and destroys the very thing that we're trying to defend.

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